EP 023: L&D Myths

Myths in Learning and Development

There are many pervasive myths in the field of learning and development. Despite most being disproved, some continue to be promoted as fact. Some are even dangerously counter-productive to learning. In this episode, Cara and Joe discuss some of these common myths and share their perspectives.

Music created by Jahzzar.

Show Transcript:

North, Cara A.  0:01  
They tickle our imagination. They invite others to make their own. They even create community around those who appreciate them. So why is it that myths in learning and development space aren’t as beloved as tall tales, folklore and pop culture? Well, the answer is quite simply that they are dangerous to the profession that many of us love. Welcome to the Instructional ReDesign Podcast, stories and conversations about the modern learning experience.

Suarez, Joseph  0:30  
Is that the right one, about designing?

North, Cara A.  0:42  
I’m Cara North and today Joe and I are going to dive headfirst into some of these pervasive myths and explore their origins and what can be done to slay them. Now want to start with one that I kind of fell across in 2014 when I took a graduate class called adult learning. Now you have to remember, this was my first graduate class in the master’s program, and I was eager to learn all about it. Now, about halfway through the course, I learned about a gentleman named Malcolm Knowles, who explained this term called andragogy. And andragogy is essentially kind of like the opposite of pedagogy. Andragogy is about how adults learn. And for him, this breakthrough was kind of again about that the adults do learn differently from children. Now, he used this approach of self directed learning. And he said that that was kind of the way that you should implement andragogy. He helped groups of students kind of take responsibility for their learning, they were able to be a part of the subject matter for the course. And he kind of had these four principles of andragogy that I just want to touch on really quick. So the first is basically that the adult learner needs to be involved. So they need to be involved somehow and kind of the planning and evaluation of their instructio. Two would be that adult learners experience also comes into play in the way that they learn. So experience and that can include, you know, good or bad provides kind of the basis for learning activities. Three would be relevance and impact into their lives. This would be classified as the what’s in it for me effect. So why should adult learners care about this? And four is problem-centered. And so how is it that they’re going to learn through a problem centered curriculum versus a content oriented. So this is more about applying what they already kind of have in their brain. Now, again, kind of going through this, there’s kind of two ways to kind of understand this. So there was kind of these different resources and studies that were done that basically said the andragogy is more like the science and art of helping adults learn whereas pedagogy is like the art and science of teaching children so it’s more on kind of your spoon fed you’re telling of you know, this is the way this is. Two plus two equals four versus in an  adult classroom it’s more, okay, two plus two equals four. Why is that? Like, why do you think that is? How do you know that’s true? So more kind of critical thinking cap is kind of the way that it was initially kind of put out there. So I’m in this class, Joe, and I’m like, okay, sure. I think that makes sense. I mean, it’s coming from, you know, scholarship. It’s coming from all of this

Suarez, Joseph  3:25  
Sounds logical.

North, Cara A.  3:26  
Yeah, seems logical, right? But let’s think about this a little bit further. So for me, a couple things that I want to talk on about why this maybe shouldn’t be as embraced as much as it is the number one what defines an adult learner? What in the heck does that mean? Does that is that their age? Is that how many hairs they have on their chin? Is that if they’re living on their own? I mean it it doesn’t really operationalize and say what an adult learner is. So Joe, what do you think an adult learner is?

Suarez, Joseph  3:56  
I guess legally you become an adult learner at the age of 18. So that would make a bunch of high school seniors adult learners, right?

North, Cara A.  4:01  
I think so. And then also, I think that would put our college population, our college students, the folks that are considered the traditional, if you will, college students are definitely adults as well as the non traditional college students, which I absolutely hate that term and can’t believe I said it. But that’s a horse of another color. And two, I want to talk a little bit more about the self directed learning piece. So let’s talk begin about like, what does that mean? So first of all, if adults are naturally self directed, does that mean that they’re always coming in with a great attitude ready to learn? No, I mean, there’s a lot of different bags, that we all kind of carry in our own environments of what that looks like. Second is the way that it is kind of put into the literature about the self direction. It’s kind of all or nothing. Either you got it and you are self directed, or you’re not. It’s kind of on this continuum of extremes. We all know you may be in a learning environment, you might be briefly distracted, but then you can get your mind back in the game to make it happen of whatever it is that you’re trying to learn. So there’s that. And then kind of like the last one is that self directed learning means learning in isolation. That is not true. And I know that a lot of us know the benefits of social learning. Being able to bounce ideas off people is super important. So again, there’s kind of this dimension of the self directed learning, and that it’s adults only. But fundamentally, I mean, can we really say biologically, that adults and children learn differently?

Suarez, Joseph  5:41  
Yeah, that’s a tough one. I mean, a lot of what you mentioned about what defines an adult learner comes down to previous experience and not just being a blank slate that you can kind of cram information to. It’s like, well, I’ve already learned something. So how does this new piece information fit within what I already know and also how is that going to apply to me in my life? Those are the things, the assumptions that I see from the principles you mentioned. But I also think that those are traits that people start to develop probably in like junior high, or even sooner, where they’re already starting to look a little more critically at the information that teachers are presenting to them in school and say, Well, what does that have to do with me and, and my desire to go out and skateboard and be a rebellious teenager? Well, maybe that was just me.

North, Cara A.  6:31  
No, I know, I agree with you. And going back to the principles if you remove adult out of there and add in, let’s say, dog, so, you know, dogs want to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their own instruction. Yeah, dogs want to do what they want to do, right? You know, dogs, learning experience provides the basis for learning activities. Yeah, if you crack their hind end if they’re not doing something right, and then a dog is probably going to remember that right? So that’s kind of my problem with it. I don’t think it is just about adults. Do I believe that experiences matter in learning? Do I believe that motivation matters in learning? Absolutely. But just to say that adults are the only ones that are impacted by that, I think is just a little bit limiting to kind of, again, our audience in learning and development, we want to make sure that we’re inclusive of everybody and not just say that adults do this. And adults do that. That’s just kind of one of my little soap boxes.

Suarez, Joseph  7:34  
Yeah, it’s one of your soap boxes. I think you have many soap boxes. So what’s your next soapbox there?

North, Cara A.  7:40  
My next soapbox is learning styles. Now I’m sure if you’ve taken any kind of education class ever, you’ve likely heard of learning styles. And if you haven’t, basically, it’s a theory that kind of gained popularity I believe in the 1970s here in the United States. Basically the crux of it is that all students can be classified according to their style of learning. So in other words, individuals learn differently. Now again, on the surface, if you think about it maybe doesn’t sound too outrageous as you may like to listen to podcast, or maybe you want to read a text to learn new information. Now, the primary flaw here for me is that it assumes that the fundamental process of learning where the brain codes and recalls information is different from person to person. Now, if they would have changed it from learning styles to learning preferences, I think that might have avoid some of this criticism. Now, each person has an individual preference, perhaps on what they do or don’t like when it comes to learning. But that doesn’t mean that the fundamental neuroscience of how we learn changes. Now there are many educators in the field that actually still do not realize that there is still no research evidence to back up the claims that students learn through a preferred cognitive style, which includes visual, audio, kinesthetic, and reading and writing. So there’s a gentleman that I met in my higher ed studies, his name is Dr. Ross Perkins. He has a great link to all kinds of information about learning styles, and we’ll be able to share his contact here in the show notes. Another one that I love is The Debunker Club. If you’re not familiar with them, they have some great information out there about learning styles as well. And if you like money, which who doesn’t like money, Joe, you can win $5,000 if you can prove that learning styles are real. So there’s a challenge to you if you can prove learning styles are real. Get $5000 in the bank. I mean, hey, that’s a good payday. Right, Joe?

Suarez, Joseph  9:45  
Yeah, maybe I should try it and maybe I should try and prove they’re real.

North, Cara A.  9:49  
So what do you think about learning styles, Joe?

Suarez, Joseph  9:51  
You know, it’s it’s funny, because in seventh grade, my teacher actually had us take some type of test I don’t remember what the test was that determined what type of learner we were. And it came back that I was an auditory learner. And she actually tailored her instruction to the class based on what our results of that test showed. And I don’t remember specifically what was different for me because I came back an auditory learner, but I just remember looking at that result and not necessarily being like, yeah, I totally am different that way. It was just kind of like, okay, if you say so, because it’s not like I couldn’t comprehend words that I was seeing or, or look at a painting and be like, oh, but if someone could tell me what this painting is, like, I would get it better.

North, Cara A.  10:44  
But it’s crazy to me how pervasive it is,. I was at a higher education conference last year, where I was presenting in a session that was going up against mine was about learning styles, and I thought at first it had to be a joke but then I found out it was a legitimate session and I was mortified. I could not believe that a conference allowed that to come in where they probably say that the acceptance rate is, you know, 35 or 40%, or whatever. They try to make it sound elite and fancy, but the fact that learning styles presentation was in a higher ed, peer reviewed, you know, RFP conference was absolutely terrible, in my opinion.

Suarez, Joseph  11:27  
Yeah, and I know, we’ll call it the industry, the learning and development industry has been at least that many thought leaders have been railing against the idea of learning styles for many years now. And it was probably I was maybe four or five years into my career before I actually heard it for the first time. And I heard it presented in kind of a snarky way like, like, oh, those learning styles things and I was like, oh, what are those not a real thing? I was kind of raised to think they were they’re not?! So I would just caution people, you know, I know how we like to get on a bandwagon of laughing at learning styles, but just be a little bit careful because people need to be let let down gently, so to speak about, you know what the science doesn’t really back up this claim that there are these different learning styles. Now, preferences, like you said, originally, there might be a little truth to adhering to people’s preferences, but even then it gets a little dicey. So learning styles definitely not a thing, but let’s let’s let people down gently about it.

North, Cara A.  12:33  
Well, one thing I don’t want to let people gently down about are generational myths, Joe. So millennials, Gen Z, baby boomers, Gen X. How many times have you just like been digging through LinkedIn or Twitter and seeing all this presentation material about catering to millennials in training or how they engage Gen Z in learning well, frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I am sick of hearing about it because despite the generations, fundamentally, we learn the same way. And as a millennial, I’m here to tell you that I am a person just like you are not some enigma. So Joe, what is your take on these generational myths?

Suarez, Joseph  13:16  
Let’s take a step back and look at it for what it is. This is a way to stereotype people based on age. And if you were to do that from reverse, if you were to say, oh, you know what, all people that are 60 years and older are this way. That’s just flat out ageism, there’s not there’s no disguising that it’s ageism. And then if you look at it from the other way, it’s no different. Oh, all young people, you know what they’re like this. And it’s kind of like this, get off my lawn mentality. Get off my lawn-ism. Where it’s like young people these days, they don’t understand but you know, it’s been that way from, from ancient times that the the older people don’t necessarily understand the young people. Even though we’ve all been young people,

North, Cara A.  14:02  
So I’ll get on another little soapbox here. If you type in on Linkedin the term millennial expert, you’ll get a lot of results. And what I find fascinating about this, and again, this is just me just looking at your profile picture. A lot of those people don’t look like they’re millennials, Joe.

Suarez, Joseph  14:22  

North, Cara A.  14:23  
So I think personally, this is a great way for people to make money. And if there’s money in it, and it’s hot right now, any time that you can talk crap, in my opinion about millennials or Gen Z’s, you know, people are listening to it. And I do think a lot of it has to do with kind of these different publications that the C suite are readin. C suite reads the Harvard Business Review. If you go to Harvard Business Review, there’s a ton of stuff in there about millennials and Gen Z. So I think it kind of starts with that and just making sure that you know, folks in your organization know that hey, you know what, we’re people. We’re all people. And we can kind of come to a common place of how we can get things done at work and how we can advance the learning in our organizations. But I do think that that this is probably one of the toughest ones, I think, to battle because it’s just been going on for so long. And from what I’ve been told by my friends that are Gen Xers, as you know, they went through the same thing too. So it’s not just the millennials kind of crying about this. I think Gen X was also called kind of the lazy generation as well for for a point in time.

Suarez, Joseph  15:33  
Yeah, and speaking as a Gen X or myself, I’ve read it as the cutoff was 1980. And I was born in December of 79.

North, Cara A.  15:43  
You’re old!

Suarez, Joseph  15:44  
I know! As a tail end Gen Xer, I can tell you that no, there’s there’s really not much difference. But there is you know what there is a little bit of truth to is the what we experienced collectively through history and the things that changes in society. So my generation experienced together the Challenger shuttle blowing up, that’s something that Gen millennials or Gen Z did notexperience, things like that those events those who was the president at the time, and what were the things that were going on, what are the wars that were being fought? What was the hit TV show of the time? All those things influence us as as to who we are as people. But that doesn’t mean that we can blanket stereotype people to say, all people are now you know, these millennials, they like to be more accountable and take charge and do things whereas Gen X didn’t or I don’t even know what the stereotypes are. At the end of the day, they are stereotypes and it’s a little disconcerting to hear HR be one of the biggest proponents of these stereotypes to be like, well, these all these millennials coming into the workplace, we need to have more ping pong tables or whatever they think they need to do as a result.

North, Cara A.  17:02  
Right? You know, I completely agree with you about kind of rallying around the pop culture and kind of the events I think for millennials is definitely 9/11. I remember exactly where I was, when that happened. I know a lot of us probably do as well, but it just blows my mind to think about my Gen Z little cousin wasn’t even born during 9/11. And you know, so it’s really crazy to think about that kind of stuff. So yeah, I’m glad that you brought that up. Alright, so let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about these personality tests that are everywhere. So you may or may not be aware of several of these, but a lot of them have different levels and letters associated with them. You know, with Myer Briggs, I believe a long time ago when I first took it I want to say I was an ENFP. But today, I like to say that my letters are STFU or LMAO because Myers Briggs is not based in science. A lot of these personality tests are not based in science so I did a little investigation. Myers Briggs specifically was based in the 1940s. It was built upon the theories of Carl Jung, who is now very disregarded in that psychology community. And he warned that these personality types are kind of just tendencies that he observed, we now know that a lot of times these are taken as strict classification. So just because you may have a tendency to do something, now we’re saying, oh, well, if I’m ENFP, then that means I’m always extroverted. 100% of the time. Well, we know a lot of times that that’s not the case. So again, there may be, I believe with Myers Briggs. There’s kind of one of 16 different types that you can get. And for that one a lot of times is just very kind of meaningless. And I’m going to tell you guys, I heard this at the ATD conference, and I’m going to read verbatim what I heard. I was standing up side of a room listening to the hallway conversation. And this tweet of mine actually got a ton of likes and retweets with people cannot believe that I heard it. And I said “heard in ATD 2019 hallway: our onboarding starts with each employee doing a Myers Briggs assessment, and we pair introverts with extroverts, and vice versa, to help them grow.” I wish somebody could have seen the look on my face when I heard that I was mortified.

Suarez, Joseph  19:28  
Yeah, absolutely mortified. Yeah, as an introvert that just makes my skin crawl. That’s fingernails on a chalkboard.

North, Cara A.  19:36  
Well,I think you had the winning comment. What was your comment?

Suarez, Joseph  19:39  
Yeah, so your tweet said it “our onboarding starts with”… and my comment was and it ends with an exit interview.

North, Cara A.  19:46  
But But seriously, though, we really want to kind of shed light on these personality tests, because, yes, they’re entertaining. I remember in my Seventeen magazine as a teenager going through these personality quizzes and really being entertained and liking them, but the fact that we’re using them to classify people tell them that they’re a certain way. I just think it’s really dangerous for me. It’s almost like a horoscope. So Cancer anyone?

Suarez, Joseph  20:11  
Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, like you said about what, and this was what my understanding is to about what Myers Briggs was, was it’s basically his observation of you know, what it looks like there’s these buckets of people that are these buckets that people generally fall into. And it was never, from my understanding, intended to be this thing where everyone can now be classified by these trades. And it’s really turned into this thing where it’s no better than like you said to Seventeen magazine or BuzzFeed quiz. Something like which character of The Breakfast Club are you? And that’s the Gen X reference there. Go see the Breakfast Club!

North, Cara A.  20:42  
What’s that?

Suarez, Joseph  20:48  
Yeah. I don’t know how well it stands up over time. But it was it was a movie for my generation. And it’s not just Myers Briggs. There’s other ones their is DISC and Strength Finders is one that I’ve done. And maybe one of the criticisms of something like DISC and Myers Briggs is that there’s only these four personality types and it might not be enough to really break down everyone into those, those types. Because what there’s like 16 combinations with Myers Briggs, so Strength Finders actually has 32 traits, and it breaks you down. And by the time you take your end result, it’s something like only it’s like a one in a million chance that you and someone else will have the same results. But really, that’s just it still, horoscopes, but it’s just adding more constellations in the sky that you might be aligned to

North, Cara A.  21:45  
Remind me, Joe, these quizzes that you’re talking about, especially Strength Finders and Myers Briggs, I mean, they’re not like super short. I mean, it’s a lot of questions if I remember. Oh, because I’m a millennial, I have a short attention span. I just can’t get through it.

Suarez, Joseph  22:01  
Yeah, let me let me handle it for you know. I’ll take it up as a longer memory span Gen X or you know, these tests are insightful, these tests can be a way to kind of self identify and and show you some things and kind of be introspective about the way you are. And I do actually think they have some benefit to some inner personal relationships between other people to be like, Okay, well if your self identifying as this, and I self identifies that maybe there’s some ways that that can help us work together. But to just be to take a position of everyone in the company is going to take this, this personality test, and we’re all going to get together and compare results, and it’s going to define how we work together. I personally have never seen that work on a large scale. It’s always kind of these one off things where people get some benefit from it. What’s been your experience?

North, Cara A.  22:59  
No, I agree with you. I think It should, if you’re going to use that, it should be like maybe a starting conversation. So being able to talk a little bit about, again, going back to your preference of the way that you like to be a part of the organization, areas of opportunity for you to grow, things that you’re already strong at. It’s always good to have that knowledge about yourself. And if you get a little piece of that from one of these, sure, but to say ironclad you’re this way, 24/7, and this is the way that it is I just think it’s a little bit dangerous. All right, so Joe, we’ve talked a lot about these different myths. So let’s talk a little bit about how you can fight them and you did a really nice job earlier talking a little bit about letting people down softly. So what are some other recommendations that you have to kind of slay these myths where they lay?

Suarez, Joseph  23:52  
Oh, boy, well, I’m a skeptic with the capital S I like to say. I take evaluating claims I hear very seriously. So the first step is does it pass just my first internal filter? My first reaction of yes, this sounds like a real thing or not. Then from there, I like to take a little bit further than probably most people do. Because I like to be on the lookout for things that appeal to what the way I want to think what I want to believe. And I think that’s the root cause of why these things persist is because something like learning styles sounds so good. And it sounds like it makes sense and to have a magic bullet of okay, well, if I break my students down by the type of learner they are I can have success as a teacher. It’s just almost too good to be true type thing. So to be on the lookout, lookout for things that appeal to the way I want to think and be like, well hold on a minute. let’s actually look into this and see if it’s right before I just accept it as much as it appeals to me.

North, Cara A.  24:53  
I agree with that. And I want to also shed light again, I think I briefly mentioned them, but the Debunker Club I think their website debunkerclub.com you can go there is a group of L&D professionals who want to continue to slay myths together. And I actually ended up going to one of their meetings at ATD ICE and met a lot of nice people there. So thank you for everybody that was so nice and welcome me to that meeting of the Debunker Club. But there are strength kind of in numbers and just know if something doesn’t sound right. to you, and Joe, to your point about being a skeptic, it probably doesn’t sound right to someone else, as well. So there’s really a lot of value in doing your own research and asking those questions. One person I know that is very full of questions and ask them frequently is our friend Chris Straley. He is not afraid to kind of comment on things that doesn’t make sense to him and ask those clarifying questions. But to Joe’s point, we don’t have to be jerks about it either. So being able to kind of show people different insights and giving them the resources to back things up, I is also very important. It’s not just taking someone else’s word for it. But being able to provide a little bit of evidence, I think that that will also help.

Suarez, Joseph  26:08  
I think the idea of a Debunkers Club is a great idea. And I think it’s awesome. That’s the thing that exists. And I encourage people to check it out. But one of the things that I would caution against is assuming the identity of someone that is out to squash these types of things, because if we’re really using the science to back up our claims, then we also need to be open to recent changes and what the science shows us. So as much as we just talked down learning styles, if further research shows that you know what, actually there is something to this learning styles if someone has to make a $5,000 payout because someone did prove that learning styles are a thing, we need to own up to that and we need to say okay, these these actually are a thing and move forward. So just a word of caution there about assuming the identity of a debunker.

North, Cara A.  26:58  
I agree. Alright. So what are some of the myths that you guys have heard about, dear listeners, so feel free to share those with us. We’d love to have a conversation about those. And I think that’s about it for this one. Anything else, Joe?

Suarez, Joseph  27:12  
Nope. Watch out for those Gen Z though. They’re the next ones coming.

North, Cara A.  27:18  
All right, thank you guys for listening.